Varley’s exhibition showcases childhood in historical Canadian art

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham recently launched a new Canadian exhibition, Our Children: Reflections of Childhood in Historical Canadian Art.

“The City of Markham has a special affiliation with Canadian art history,” Mayor Frank Scarpitti says. “Several members of the Group of Seven lived in Thornhill, and, of course, F.H. Varley lived on Main Street Unionville. But even before that, Markham’s founding father, William Berczy, was not only a writer, adventurer, architect and explorer, but also an important visual artist, widely remembered for his outstanding portraits of early Canadians.

“It is therefore very fitting that this exhibition is on-view at the Varley Art Gallery of Markham.

The works in this exhibition cover the period from the early 1840s to the 1930s and so constitute a celebration of Canadian settler society, something that is very important to Markham. With the motto “Leading while Remembering”, we too honour our settler history and many Markham residents are proud to trace their heritage back to the city’s founders, who arrived here from Europe with William Berczy.

From staged commissioned portraits to lighthearted scenes of leisure, this exhibition explores the portrayal of children by Canadian artists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Collectively, these works offer insight into the changing conceptions of childhood within Canadian settler societies, including family dynamics, gender roles and class structures.

This exhibition, curated by Anik Glaude and Charlotte Gagnier, features many prominent artists from this period including Paul Kane, Cornelius Krieghoff, Robert Harris, George Agnew Reid and Charlotte Schreiber. Consequently, these works also speak to the development of a Canadian artistic milieu, evidenced by the establishment of artist associations, the Royal Canadian Academy and the increasing professionalization of the artist.

Our Children: Reflections of Childhood in Historical Canadian Art was generously sponsored by PACART Exclusive Fine Art Transportation Services and will be on view at the Varley Art Gallery of Markham until June 23, 2019.

“The works on display in Our Children reveal a great deal about traditional gender stereotypes,” notes Niamh O’Laoghaire, director of the Varley Art Gallery. “When boys and girls are seen together, the males are generally depicted as leaders. Yet overall, the young girls and women outnumber the boys. The exhibition, then, can also be understood as a celebration of women’s lives and the importance of their contributions to settler society as a whole through their frequently unacknowledged work: minding the home, making clothes, caring for children, tending the sick.”

Learn more about the Varley’s workshops and public events at

Photo: Guests take in the Our Children: Reflections of Childhood in Historical Canadian Art exhibition at the Varley Art Gallery of Markham.

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